Many Americans could have guessed that Millennial-age Americans do not think very highly of capitalism. And it’s not just an anecdotal impression—there is recent data documenting these attitudes as well.
In 2016, Harvard University published a poll which asked 18-29 year old Americans their opinion of different economic systems. A majority of them rejected capitalism, with only 42 percent having a favorable view. Socialism’s approval rating was even lower, at 31 percent. A more recent YouGov study commissioned by the Victims of Communism Memorial Fund found that a staggering 44 percent of Millennials would prefer to live in a socialist country, with 7 percent saying that they would prefer a communist country.
Despite its findings, it is hard to overlook how Millennials are continuously reaping the benefits of free markets in their day to day life. From lower prices for computing power, to accessible high-quality entertainment and increases in life expectancy, the overwhelmingly positive effects of free markets and globalization are an integral part of most people’s lives in the developed world. None of these benefits, however, seem to convert into a favorable outlook on capitalism.
To discover the source of these negative views, it may be worth investigating the staggering differences between Millennial views on entrepreneurship and capitalism.
Millennials Love Entrepreneurship But Dislike Capitalism
Interestingly, negative Millennial attitudes regarding capitalism do not spill over to their views on entrepreneurship. Millennials have been described as the most entrepreneurial generation based on their desire to start new businesses. CEI founder Fred L. Smith, Jr., for example, wrote about the encoruaging signs of Millennial business savvy for Forbes in 2015.
According to a recent poll by America’s Small Business Development Centers, half of Millennials plan on starting their own business in the next three years. In that same survey, 61 percent indicated that the best job security comes from owning one’s own business. Many don’t practice what they preach, though—the proportion of Americans under 30 with their own business has actually dropped by 65 percent since 1980. Millennials are appreciative and interested in becoming entrepreneurs, but fail to turn these desires into concrete actions. Nevertheless, these polls indicate a generally positive opinion on entrepreneurship.
Without Free Markets, Entrepreneurship Cannot Prosper
One of the main requisites for successful entrepreneurship is an environment that allows for creative exploration and innovation rather than following an established plan. This is intrinsically linked to a free market, which generates competition for the best ideas instead of following a top-down regulatory approach. Due to this link, it would seem logical that a positive outlook on entrepreneurship would lead someone to view capitalism in more favorable terms.
But for that, one would need to know about this precise connection. One is unlikely to connect the dots if one is unaware that entrepreneurship can only flourish in market systems and not planned economies. Lack of general economic education of this kind seems to be one the factors in Millennial ambivalence towards entrepreneurship and capitalism. If one erroneously associates capitalism with exploitation rather than creative exploration and value generation, one is unlikely to acknowledge its necessity for any kind of lasting entrepreneurial activity.
If we want Millennials to have a greater appreciation for the virtues of capitalism, we need to convey how their entrepreneurial aspirations can only be made possible through a competitive market system, and that excessive regulations and government intervention hinder, rather than support, the flourishing of entrepreneurial activity.